New York’s Spontaneous 9/11 Memorials and the Politics of Ambivalence
McGill University, Department of Art History & Communication Studies
This essay considers the political significance of the temporary 9/11 memorial that took form in New York’s Union Square Park in the ten days immediately following the attacks on the World Trade Center. While the gathering at Union Square can be seen as part of a wider popular phenomenon of spontaneous memorials appearing at locations of tragedy, it is distinct in terms of the unusual diversity of messages and sentiments communicated at the site, from rituals of mourning to anti-war speeches. The paper outlines the conflicting academic reactions to the spontaneous memorial phenomenon and suggests that neither side of this scholarly debate entirely accounts for the dynamics of political communication that occurred in Union Square after 9/11. In an attempt to fill this theoretical gap, the essay turns finally to the work of Paolo Virno, a philosopher who examines the potential for new forms of community to emerge from within the constraints of our contemporary post-Fordist economy. Virno’s thought helps us acknowledge the fragile yet potent political force residing within spontaneous memorials in general and the Union Square gathering in particular.
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